Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 26

BILLY FLYNN

What kept you on an old-school blues
path instead of playing louder blues-rock?

True Chicago Blues

T

he phrase "electric blues" is a catch-all for
many genres, but for aficionados it refers
to a highly specific idiom from the Windy City.
In fact, if you listen to Billy Flynn's smokin' new
album, Lonesome Highway, you will identify it
instantly, as his tone and sweet licks capture the
nuance of Chicago's best guitarmen. For Flynn,
this kind of blues is less about chops, and far more
about tone, soul, and the very deepest of grooves.
Who are your main influences?

B.B. King and Muddy Waters, but also
Chicago's West Side blues players like Magic
Sam and Otis Rush. For slide, it's Tampa Red,
Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, and Elmore
James. My number one influence was Jimmy
Dawkins; after seeing him play, I knew I wanted
to play in the style that he created.
The album's opener, "Good Navigator,"
has a feel and tone like Chuck Berry. You
really nailed it.

I bought my first electric guitar when I was
about 12 and spent a lot of time playing along
to his records. I used to watch him on TV, and
he said he listened to Elmore James, T-Bone
Walker, and Charlie Christian. Because of
those guitarists, I thought of Chuck Berry as
more of a Swing-era player from the '40s and
'50s rather than a rock and roller. He had a real
ringing tone.
"Small Town" displays some blues-funk
bottleneck.

That sound was from Earl Hooker. When I was
learning to play, I bought every album I could by
Earl, and when I saw pictures of him, I noticed a
small slide on his fingers. Now I use that small
slide, too. It's good for single-note runs.
Your tone on Lonesome Highway is huge.
Is there any secret to getting a big, fat tone?

I try different things, like changing pickup
positions and adding reverb or using different
Tone-control settings. Where you pick on the
guitar changes the sound, too. Also, when I
used to play alongside bluesmen like James
Wheeler, Louis Myers, and Little Smokey
Smothers, I had to find a way to step up my
rig and become aware of the things I needed
to do to keep up.
Is the dirty tone on "If It Was For The
Blues" from the amp, or did you use a
booster pedal?

No overdrive pedal was used; we used a
Fender Super Reverb and an original Peavey
Bandit turned up loud! I hooked them up
together, but miked each separately.

I've always loved the true sound of the blues and
was inspired by the blues greats. I also loved the
rock and roll of the '50s and early '60s, but never
really was a rock musician myself. I was much
more into jazz and early rock with a swinging
rhythm section. By meeting - and being encouraged by - many great Chicago players like Johnny
Littlejohn, Jimmy Rogers, Mighty Joe Young, and
Luther Allison, I knew I wanted to play blues.
They sounded different than everyone else to
me - that real Chicago sound.
Your career started in the '70s, when
vintage blues was not much in fashion. Did
that shape you as a blues musician?

During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting
B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Charlie Musselwhite,
Jimmy Dawkins, Jimmy Rogers, and Luther Allison, and many others. To me, there was never a
lack of blues, and there was so much of it - there
were lots of musicians touring and playing in a
lot of venues. Later, I also played Top 40, disco,
and country to keep busy and working. Playing
all that stuff helped me develop as a musician
and, actually, the blues also was being influenced
by funk and disco at the time.

What guitars and pedals did you use?

What advice would give a young player
who wants to learn more about traditional
blues guitar?

I used a 1994 Gibson ES-335, a Squier
Vintage-Modified Jaguar for some rhythm,
and a Squier Strat. All guitars are stock. I
had a Cry Baby Wah I've used since the '70s.
For gigs, I play Jay Turser semi-hollowbodies
because they're very light, play great, and are
sturdy. I've taken them around the world and
never had a malfunction.

My advice would be to practice, listen to the
original electric-blues artists, and not assume
that blues is easy to play. There are some basic
elements of the music that are sometimes
overlooked, but give it that great sound. Once
you've got the building blocks, you can develop
your own style. Listen to lots of music and keep
your ears open to new styles. - Pete Prown

VINTAGE GUITAR

26

October 2017


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